Use and Misuse of Surah Nur by the Muslims, Before and After Nida Ul Nasser’s Allegations

Epigraph: Say, ‘Bring forward your proof if you are truthful.’  (Al Quran 27:64)

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

If you have not heard about Nida Ul Nasser’s Allegations then perhaps this article is not for you and my apologies to you.

For those who have heard about this and talked about this you may want to learn some more details about a few verses of the holy Quran, as the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, said, “The best among you is one who learns and teaches the Quran!”

This article is written in that spirit mainly as an academic study to read and understand the Quran better and answer those Islamophobes who find this Scripture to be misogynistic.

Let us travel back to seventh century Arabia. Year is the 8th year after migration to Medina by the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, he is traveling to Mecca to perform his last Hajj.

Muhammad, the Chosen of Allah; rejected by Quraish; persecuted; penned in with his family and a few Companions for thirty months in Shi’b Abi Talib and denied all provisions and contact; hounded out of Taif; forced out of Mecca with a price of one hundred camels proclaimed for his person, dead or alive; pursued by the hatred of Quraish even in Medina; challenged by force, besieged, plotted against; faithful, loyal, steadfast, humble, obedient servant of Allah; His Messenger par excellence; in rejection and in acceptance, in trial and in triumph proclaiming as his stand: ‘Sufficient unto me is Allah, there is no god but He, in Him is my trust, the Lord of the Glorious Throne’ (9:128); Muhammad was now surrounded by an ocean of faithful, devoted hearts, all proclaiming the glory of Allah, celebrating His praise, affirming His Unity, supplicating Him for forgiveness, mercy, compassion, invoking His blessings upon Muhammad. Arrived at the Mount, the Holy Prophet stood on the back of Qaswa and made his address:

I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah, the One, without associate, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.

I do not think, O people, that we shall be gathered together here again. Your belongings, your honor, and your lives are sanctified and made inviolate like the sanctity of this day, this month and this city. You will soon appear before your Lord and He will call you to account for all your doings. Take heed that you do not go astray, after I am gone, and start slaying one another. …

[1]

The Muslim jurisprudence developed in the centuries after the prophet came to a clear understanding of the sanctity of human life and property and these values were then inherited by Europe from 12-16th century, as the torch of civilization passed from Arab Spain to the rest of Europe. However, the concept of ‘human honor’ remained vague and nebulous and continues to be so, both in the Islamic societies and the West.

The holy Quran has beautifully laid down the principle of libel, slander and false accusation, in one of the early verses of the Surah Nur: “As for those who accuse chaste women of fornication, and then fail to provide four witnesses, strike them eighty times, and reject their testimony ever afterwards: they are the lawbreakers, except for those who repent later and make amends––God is most forgiving and merciful.” (Al Quran 24:4-5)

The translation I am using is by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem and published by Oxford University. However all translations are similar as regards these verses. You can check for yourself: More than Fifty different simultaneous translations of the Holy Quran in English.

If someone is not able to prove an accusation against a woman he or she will be punished with 80 lashes and his or her future testimony will not be honored. This means people have to be very careful in their gossip or accusations. What a guarantee against trifling with anyone’s honor! Now this is a Divine guideline for a clear cut extreme case, and states can legislate regarding honor of individuals along a spectrum of situations.

Establishing sanctity of human honor, especially of women will be a beneficent use of the above verses. But just to create a hype for Shariah Law and Islamomania will be a misuse. The fact of the matter is that in 60 years of my life, growing up in Pakistan and then living in the West for the last 33 years, in the Muslim societies, I have never heard any good discussion by the Muslim clergy or lay people, trying to understand or precisely define human rights, as best enunciated by Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The focus and intention of any related discussion is invariably something else.

The biggest misuse of the Surah Nur that I have seen over the years and also during the recent events of Nida Ul Nasser’s Allegations is demanding 4 witnesses from rape victims. How is a rape victim supposed to negotiate with any possible witnesses and ensure the steadfast testimony on their part? There are also several other reasons to believe that applying ‘4 witnesses’ that are described to discourage adultery allegations, by the Quran, to rape victims is myopic and short sighted. However, this is meant to be a brief more like a summary article.

In the following interview, one of the most learned scholars and proponent of Sharia says that if a woman is raped and does not have four male witnesses, regardless of other circumstances, she should better be quiet. The learned scholar does not suggest how the victim should negotiate with the potential witnesses before the legal hearing in presence of strict Purdah requirements, to make sure that they are not going to deviate from their testimony. Such lack of insight and empathy should send shivers down the spine of every sensitive human being! All the moderate Muslims may be better off under any Western law rather than such medieval understanding of Sharia Law. My apologies to the English readers, for the video clip is in Urdu. You will need to find an Urdu translator. Munawar Hasan, the scholar in this video, is also completely unable to conceptualize that he may not have the correct interpretation of the Holy Quran.

Before we go further, let me first share all the relevant verses that some medievalists confuse with the alleged rape situations. Nevertheless, these verses actually become a commentary of the verses discussed above, as far as they prevent slander of innocent women:

If it were not for God’s bounty and mercy towards you, if it were not that God accepts repentance and is wise . . .! It was a group from among you that concocted the lieb –– do not consider it a bad thing for you [people]; it was a good thing––and every one of them will be charged with the sin he has earned. He who took the greatest part in it will have a painful punishment. When you heard the lie, why did believing men and women not think well of their own people and declare, ‘This is obviously a lie’? And why did the accusers not bring four witnesses to it? If they cannot produce such witnesses, they are the liars in God’s eyes. If it were not for God’s bounty and mercy towards you in this world and the next, you would already have been afflicted by terrible suffering for indulging in such talk. When you took it up with your tongues, and spoke with your mouths things you did not know [to be true], you thought it was trivial but to God it was very serious. When you heard the lie, why did you not say, ‘We should not repeat this– God forbid!– It is a monstrous slander’? God warns you never to do anything like this again, if you are true believers. God makes His messages clear to you: God is all knowing, all wise. A painful punishment waits in this world and the next for those who like indecency to spread among the believers: God knows and you do not. (Al Quran 24:11-19)

These verses are pertaining to securing the honor of women, morality of the society and honesty in discussions and to avoid talking about things that we do not know or do not understand, for some political gain or frivolous agenda. These verses were more specifically related to the false accusation of Hazrat Ayesha, a young wife of the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him. Any reasonable Quranic commentary will provide you the details if you are not familiar with the story.

There are other verses of the Quran that are applicable to alleged rape including those of Surah Yusuf, when it describes the incident when a lady falsely accused the Prophet Yusuf of attempted rape. But that is for another day.

As soon as OJ Simpson’s murder trial started the Caucasians were convinced of his guilt and the African Americans were convinced of his innocence. They did not need to wait for evidence, their minds were made up, as if evidence did not matter. I saw a similar situation interacting with my Ahmadi and non-Ahmadi friends and family, in person and online. One party was almost convinced of the innocence of the accused and the other of the innocence of the accuser respectively. ‘Innocent until proven guilty,’ is a good principle, but applies to all parties under consideration, if they are being accused of something.

So, my question to all my Muslim brothers and sisters is that what happened to the teaching of absolute justice in Islam?

As authors it was almost expected from us to be silent, if we were a neutral voice or had sympathies with Nida Ul Nasser, not in so many words, but by implication of different memoranda, while authors favoring the majority sentiments of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were free to write and publish. For example, just day before yesterday an article was published under the title Sacred Justice.

In fact the above verses 24:12-19 were used to silence all discussions on the topic by implication in some emails. What if some were only discussing whether these verses are applicable to rape victims or not? Nobody bothered to clarify that academic discussions are always a good and honorable Islamic traditions.

God did not reveal these verses to stifle free speech and academic discussions. The teaching in these verses is not to gossip and play lose with the honor of others. These also tell to avoid lewd discussions or pornography or the character of the society will be spoiled and indecencies will spread in such societies.

I am guided by the Quranic verse about justice that has been picked up by the Harvard Law School as one of the best examples of justice in the world history: Did you know Harvard recognizes Quran as one of the best expressions for justice?

The verse is:

You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly– if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do. (Al Quran 4:135)

I do not have a party and have no axe to grind. I don’t have enemies or friends. I am with the innocents and not with the guilty. I will honor and respect the due process started by police in UK. It is not a war, these are peaceful times of coexistence in Europe, USA and Canada. We cannot invoke the Bush doctrine, “You are either with us or with the terrorists!”

The chips may fall where they may, in regards to Nida Ul Nasser’s Allegations, I simply want justice to prevail. I want supremacy of the Quran and prevent its misuse for that corrupts the life of all Muslims in so many different ways.

I am also guided by the rich tradition of justice in our own community by none other than the legendary Sir Zafrulla Khan, who was President of United Nations General Assembly in 1962–63 and also President of the International Court of Justice from 1970 to 1973, as he wrote: The Concept of Justice in Islam by Sir Zafrulla Khan and a book about human rights that has been reviewed as: Book Review: Islam and Human Rights by Sir Zafrulla Khan.

Reference
  1. https://www.alislam.org/book/muhammad-seal-prophets/farewell/

Keeping my cool in my WhatsApp groups: What does the Quran say

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Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

As the internet revolution and chat groups came around in the 1990s, I was ecstatic that now we will be living in a brand new world of truth and wisdom. My dreams were soon shattered.

We were advised that every one is living in their political and religious bubble. I still remained cautiously optimistic. Then in 2015 the Presidential candidate Donald Trump came on the scene and swept through the Republican party. I as a Democrat was now thoroughly convinced that 45% of the US population, called the Republicans, are definitely living in their political bubble.

To my dismay I discovered in my WhatsApp groups of my family, friends, classmates and community that bubbles come in several sizes, shapes and themes. Each group depending on their composition has their own bubble and sacred cows. Minority in the group are often not allowed to criticize the sacred cows of the majority.

I discovered that in my group of high school classmates the sacred cow for many was the Pakistan army, even though all of them were living in the West. Our group had to splinter as one person wanted to be critical of the Pakistan army and its role in the Pakistan politics and some will not simply have it.

What can I do, how can I maintain my relations and friendships and yet be not completely silent or diplomatic and ineffective?

Part of me continues to believe in the power of free speech guided by a verse of the holy Quran:

فَذَکِّرۡ اِنۡ نَّفَعَتِ الذِّکۡرٰی

“So keep on reminding: surely, reminding is profitable.” (Al Quran 87:9/10)

Lying and deceiving is not an option, for the Quran says: “O ye who believe! why do you say what you do not? Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not.” (Al Quran, Surah Saff, chapter 61)

In fact, the Quran says in Surah Ahzab, chapter 33, in a verse often recited at the time of ceremonizing the Muslim marriages that if we speak the perfect truth and solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence we shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, God guarantees that He will put our affairs on the right and peaceful course: “O ye who believe! be God conscious, and say the best straightforward word. He will set right your affairs for you and forgive you your sins. And whoso obeys Allah and His Messenger, shall surely attain a dramatic success.”

What shall I do and say, if I am to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

I need to be guided by a few more verses of the Quran, to find the balance, with which I need to operate in my family and friends groups, with different ideologies, personalities and often different sacred cows.

Actually just yesterday, in one of my favorite groups, a friend subtly advised and possibly he had me in mind, by quoting a verse of Surah Nahl, chapter 16: “Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and effective exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best. Surely, your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided.”

The catch is that a slight twist can allow this verse to be used to silence the minority view. The argument goes like this, ‘You are not being reasonable and wise and so simply be quiet and do not ruffle our feathers.’ So how do we get out of this catch and let free speech and dialogue flow so the message can be transmitted and not censored, even when not popular in a certain group?

Is there a way out? The wisdom in communication mentioned in this verse is not prescribed only for the minority opinion but also for the majority opinion.

Is there a way to burst the bubble of the Republicans in USA and keep our own cool and sanity?

If you are a Democrat thinking that the Republicans are stupid and many may be racist or Islamophobes, is not going to make you very effective with them. For this we need to fully understand their psyche and their piety. With that in mind, let me introduce you to Jonathan Haidt, a popular American social psychologist:

So once one understands this polarization fully one can figure out tools to overcome this polarization and dogmatization.

When any debate gets heated in WhatsApp group the opponents choose to vilify each other and otherize the opposite group. Sometimes the greatest zeal is shown by the religious people and they reserve the worst sentiments for those who may to the external eye be closest to their identity.

The Quran has demystified this vilification psychology for all times by suggesting in Surah Mumtahinah that only those are undeserving of our kindness that are trying to kill us or make us homeless, “Allah does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. But God forbids you to take as allies those who have fought against you for your faith, driven you out of your homes, and helped others to drive you out: any of you who take them as allies will truly be wrongdoers.” (Al Quran, Surah Mumtihanah)

So, if I can avoid vilification and otherization then as indicated by the very first verse that I quoted, I can keep on reaping the benefit of free speech and be effective in my WhatsApp groups.

But, the reader may ask, I was being guided by the reading of the Quran, how did I suddenly jump to political psychology?

To me the sacred and the secular are not completely separate. My understanding of the scripture is not only guided by itself and the tradition but also the secular knowledge. They are commentary for each other and feed on and develop each other.

Muhammad Asad, born Leopold Weiss; 12 July 1900 – 20 February 1992, was a Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian journalist, traveler, writer, linguist, thinker, political theorist, diplomat and Islamic scholar. After traveling across the Arab World as a journalist, he converted to Islam in 1926 and chose for himself the Muslim name ‘Muhammad Asad’—Asad being the Arabic rendition of his root name Leo (Lion).

Asad was one of the most influential European Muslims of the 20th century.

Muhammad Asad writes in his introduction to the translation of the holy Quran, regarding commentary from one’s opinion:

If, on occasion, I have found myself constrained to differ from the interpretations offered by the latter (early commentators), let the reader remember that the very uniqueness of the Qur’an consists in the fact that the more our worldly knowledge and historical experience increase, the more meanings, hitherto unsuspected, reveal themselves in its pages.

We believe that this is an information age and human learning is increasing at a dramatic pace. We hope that our commentary serves some of the needs of our contemporary times, with that inspiration we have tried to put forth our additional contributions, while we also try to preserve what we feel has been the best in the most popular commentaries of the last century.

Asad continues:

The great thinkers of our past understood this problem fully well. In their commentaries, they approached the Qur’an with their reason: that is to say, they tried to explain the purport of each Qur’anic statement in the light of their superb knowledge of the Arabic language and of the Prophet’s teachings — forthcoming from his sunnah — as well as by the store of general knowledge available to them and by the historical and cultural experiences which had shaped human society until their time. Hence, it was only natural that the way in which one commentator understood a particular Qur’anic statement or expression differed occasionally — and sometimes very incisively — from the meaning attributed to it by this or that of his predecessors. In other words, they often contradicted one another in their interpretations: but they did this without any animosity, being fully aware of the element of relativity inherent in all human reasoning, and of each other’s integrity. And they were fully aware, too, of the Prophet’s profound saying, ‘The differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) among the learned men of my community are [an outcome of] divine grace (rahmah)’ — which clearly implies that such differences of opinion are the basis of all progress in human thinking and, therefore, a most potent factor in man’s acquisition of knowledge.  But although none of the truly original, classical Qur’an-commentators ever made any claim to ‘finality’ concerning his own interpretations, it cannot be often enough stressed that without the work of those incomparably great scholars of past centuries, no modern translation of the Qur’an — my own included — could ever be undertaken with any hope of success; and so, even where I differ from their interpretations, I am immeasurably indebted to their learning for the impetus it has given to my own search after truth.

These psychological principles described by Jonathan Haidt in the above video, remind me of a Quranic verse of Surah Anaam, chapter 6, “And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus unto every people have We caused their doing to seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do.”

Each WhatsApp group has some sacred ideas if not some personalities that are the sacred cows. These are like ‘idols,’ if you will, for the particular group and cannot be reviled.

So extra caution and consideration is required when touching these taboo subjects, if these really need to be addressed.

Sometimes, an insightful moderator who is aware of these sensitivities and also of the minority opinions can help the group navigate difficult waters.

We Will be Judged by Our Compassion and Deeds and Not Our Dogma

Every human life is sacred and we cry for each loss and suffering of every one.

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Epigraph:

So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

As millions suffer in war torn Asia and Africa, humanity is craving for mutual love and compassion. What do we owe to our fellow humans? Is the suffering of a white man any more special or sacred than that of a black man? Should the suffering be judged by the religion of the one who is suffering or struggling to save his or her family?

Let me cut through the chase and go straight to the parable from the Gospel of Matthew that I have in mind:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-45)

There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran emphasizing kindness and the teaching of being service minded and the teachings are illustrated with different metaphors. Here I would like to reproduce a Hadith which is very similar to the presentation of the Gospel of Matthew:

Indeed, Allah will say to his servant when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgment, ‘O’ son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (i.e. reward) with Me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.’ He will reply: ‘How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so was thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (i.e. reward) with me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him.’

Deeds have consequences as we noted in the quotes above and as we experience on a hourly basis in our daily life. But let us examine the converse, the relevance of faith:

If I believe that there was a James White in Egypt in 2222 BC, who was 10 feet tall and weighed 1499 pounds. He had repeated dreams to jump off a cliff for the salvation of humanity and one day he did so and was found dead at the bottom of the valley with a written note in his hand that if you believe that I am 10 feet tall and weigh 1499 pounds and just died for your sins then your sins will be forgiven in the Afterlife.

The absurdity of such a claim and such a faith is obvious. The proposition that a faith alone can be most consequential in the big scheme of things is hard to take seriously in the aftermath of James White narrative above. Nevertheless, the Protestant Christians have had a similar official position, which they have called Sola fide over the centuries, since the reformation in the 16th century. Before we talk further about Sola fide, my apology to the Protestants and I do yield that here I have taken the liberty to caricature their position and pushed it to an extreme.

Sola fide (Latin: by faith alone), also known as justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine that distinguishes the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestant Christianity, as well as some other denominations, from the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some parts of the Restoration Movement, as well as the Methodist Churches.

The doctrine of sola fide asserts God’s pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith alone, excluding all “works“. All mankind, it is asserted, is fallen and sinful, under the curse of God, and incapable of saving itself from God’s wrath and curse. But God, on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus), grants sinners judicial pardon, or justification, which is received solely through faith. Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. Christ’s righteousness, according to the followers of “sola fide,” is imputed (or attributed) by God to the believing sinner (as opposed to infused or imparted), so that the divine verdict and pardon of the believing sinner is based not upon anything in the sinner, but upon Jesus Christ and his righteousness alone, which are received through faith alone.

More recently the Protestants have moved away from this extreme stress on faith and moved closer to the Catholic position. A recent Pew Research Center revealed:

Sola fide and recent polls

In other words, 500 years after the Reformation, 52% of the Protestants realize the futility of the claim that deeds don’t matter.

We saw one polar extreme of emphasis on faith and how it has eroded over the last 500 years among the Protestants and the other polar extreme is offered by the atheists, who deny the existence of God of the Abrahamic faiths. They unequivocally declare that faith is irrelevant and only deeds should matter.

Judaism and Islam lay emphasis on both faith and deeds. But faith in what? Different sects of Islam and Judaism will differ on the details? But, they will all agree that feeding a hungry or offering drink to a thirsty or saving the life of a sick are all meritorious acts.

There is something more that we can easily agree on, whether theist or atheist and that is motives or intentions do matter. We have all grown accustomed to and fully understand the valid difference between murder and man slaughter and other examples can be picked up from our social interactions and administration of law in different societies.

So faith does matter in some sense, at least in as far as it influences our attitudes, our inspirations and our intentions.

Islam has traditionally stressed faith in the Gracious and the Merciful God and His Providence and Afterlife and belief in His Prophets, Scriptures and angels. Different sects will have varying emphasis on these six articles of faith and if we pin down individuals and they profess with complete transparency and honesty, the details of faith of each individual will differ. In the poll of the Protestants and the Catholics we have had a taste of the variation.

Here, let me leave the reader alone on his or her personal journey of finding out in what ways the faith should be important and what details of the Christian or the Muslim faith are significant for our salvation! Buckle up and start your journey in the suggested reading and the comments below:

Suggested Reading

Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran

A Message of Compassion and Love from the Holy Bible

True Fasting: A Message of Compassion and Love from the Old Testament

A New Commentary of the Holy Quran Emphasizing Compassion, Justice and Human Rights Launched

After Monotheism, the Two Most Seminal Verses of the Quran

Allah it is Who has sent down to you (Muhammad) the Book; in it there are verses that are fundamental or decisive in meaning — these are the corner stone of the Book — and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue those that are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and wrong interpretation of such ambiguous verses. And none knows their right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, ‘We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.’ — And none heed except those gifted with understanding. (3:7/8) هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
Why don’t they ponder over the Quran, had it been from anyone other than All Knowing God, they would have found ample contradiction in it. (4:82/83)أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

I believe that the most important verse of surah Qamar is: “Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy to understand and to remember. But is there anyone who would receive admonition?” (54:17/18)

It is repeated a total of four times in this surah. But, many of us  don’t find it easy and struggle with the understanding of the holy Quran. So what is the catch?

Most of us continue to struggle with the understanding of the holy Quran as we have not clearly thought through how to understand or read the Divine Scripture.

Different commentators highlight different criteria for commentary of the Quran. But, ultimately as the particular scholar or commentator is the judge of how to apply those criteria for his or her commentary, it is reasonable to say that all commentaries ultimately are based on the judgment or opinion of the commentator.

It is self evident that all commentators or commentaries are not created equal. Ultimately it boils down to the vision or judgment of the person commenting on the holy scripture.

It has been said that the most important teaching of the holy Quran is Monotheism and it is also claimed that a third of the Quran is about the One God of the Abrahamic faiths. These claims are self evident to most of the Muslims and will not be discussed any further here.

The Quranic verse 3:7/8 is seminal and fundamental in my opinion as it lays out a very important principle that any writing should be examined and understood in light of its fundamental claims and subjects and not peripheral ones. The verse claims that those who have an axe to grind stress verses that allow them to put forward their agenda even though in so doing they distort the Quranic message.

The corollary that follows is that which ever verses or message we choose as pivotal or central, begin to define the whole of our understanding of the Quran. So, the quality of any commentary of the Quran can be judged from what verses of the Quran he or she picks as the core or the most fundamental crux and then explains rest of the text in the light of the core.

For me, I have taken Monotheism, human accountability and the message of compassion and justice as the core of the Quran and tried to see every thing else through that prism.

Before the next seminal verse, let me suggest to the open minded readers, to read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

The reason I have found the verse 4:82/83 as core and fundamental is because it invites us to resolve all possible contradictions in our understanding of the Quran. It has freed me from the bondage of the previous commentators, regardless of their repute or imagined station in the Muslim history, as human presentations do present periodic contradictions.

If the Quran is to be understood by every student and we are accountable to All Knowing God, in the Hereafter, how we understood His message and implemented in our lives, then each one of us also has the freedom to freely understand the Divine message. Based on the message of this verse, we can infer that every prior commentary or commentator would have human limitations and his message in some respects may be contradictory, while the Quran is not so, as it is from an All Knowing source. So, whenever we find the past commentaries to be lacking or contradictory, within themselves or when compared to others, I find those as fertile opportunities to come with better and more satisfying and internally consistent understanding of the Divine message.

So, in that sense this verse has become a litmus test for my understanding of the different verses and their commentaries. In other words as students it is our job to understand the Quran in holistic terms that are free of contradictions. As we pursue that goal to resolve contradictions, our understanding will embellish and continue to become more comprehensive and consistent.

As the human societies continue to evolve and human information and knowledge keeps growing at an unprecedented pace, the Quranic understanding should also continue to evolve and it certainly has in the past fourteen centuries.

I believe that if we keep these two verses in the forefront of our mind then the claim in Surah Qamar, “Indeed We have made the Qur’an easy to understand and to remember. But is there anyone who would receive admonition,” will become true. Inshallah!

Additional reading: Scope, Style and Preservation of the Quran

My understanding of the Quran is not borrowed from one teacher or commentator, no matter how much popularity he may have enjoyed in his time in any group. The Quran is a book of All Knowing God and of infinite wisdom and to be fair and just with the book, I learn from teachers of all walks of life and all different sects of Islam and even non-Muslim scholars.

Having said that the first question in the following video that is in Urdu talks about commentary of a verse of the holy Quran that talks about the age of the prophet Noah and then goes into discussion of the verse 3:7 talked above. This adds useful metaphors to discussion at hand how to read and understand the Quran:

Now learn parts of the Quran from an award winning Catholic teacher:

Religion and Science: The Indispensable God-hypothesis

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

This is an article describing the Transcendent, yet Personal God of the Abrahamic Faiths in the present day scientific paradigm, the One God of Islam, Unitarian Christianity and Judaism.

If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

In the three great monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, God is viewed as a supreme, transcendent being, beyond matter space and time, and yet the foundation of all that meets our senses that is described in terms of matter, space, and time. That is the Al Batin or the Hidden God of monotheism.  Furthermore, this God is not the god of deism, who created the world and then left it alone, or the god of pantheism, who is equated with all of existence. The Islamic and the Judeo-Christian God is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe.  He has full knowledge of all things.  God listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation, a minute bit of organized matter called humanity that moves around on the surface of a tiny pebble in a vast universe.  The Holy Quran declares:

Allah’s is the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth; and to Allah are all affairs returned for final judgment. (Al Quran 57:6)

Whereas the nineteenth century physics was about to frame God out of physical understanding of the universe, the twentieth century physics has turned the tables in favor of Monotheism.

To the atheists design in the universe is apparent but not real. For the theists, enlightened in science, the converse is true, the self sufficiency of the universe based on the laws of nature is apparent and perceived only and is not real. God is the Law Giver and sustainer of the universe. Both positions may be argued to some degree from modern science. However, only theism can offer a holistic approach, not only explaining our universe, but also human morality and ethics, our history and personal experience.

When we approach science from this theistic perspective we find that our religion and science become one and our psyche finds unification.

If there is a ‘Personal God’ that hears human prayers then there has to be a way for the deity to influence the physical world without breaking the laws of nature and making the study of science futile.  Quantum physics may be the magical wand, whereby Personal God can influence our world, without breaking the laws of nature.  In His infinite wisdom, the Omniscient God provided for infinite means to maintain His divinity!

The article, the Indispensible God Hypothesis can be read online in the fall, 2008 volume, on page 22 of the PDF file: Muslim Sunrise Fall 2008.

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Urdu Videos: Dr. Israr Ahmad Versus Ghamdi: The Latter Explaining Surah Taubah Better

secularism
We are promoting secularism in every country of the world. For the Muslim Times’ collection on secularism, please click here

Suggested reading by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Broadly speaking, while Dr. Israr Ahmad is promoting extreme Islamism, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is offering a secular understanding of Islam and interfaith tolerance. Nevertheless, their debate exposes vulnerabilities of both, for example Ghamdi does not allow any taxation other than Zakat, disregarding possible needs of the society.  Additionally, he wants the Government to coerce the Muslims to say Salat or the five times daily prayer.  In that case would the believers be actually praying to God Almighty or the coercive government?

I must applaud Ghamdi for a beautiful interpretation of Surah Taubah between 50 minutes and 1.15 mark of this video.

Insisting on a narrow understanding of the Quran without benefiting from the history of legislation and constitution making in USA and the West, the Muslims end up with a myopic understanding that cannot satisfy the needs of the modern society.

In Defense of the Secular Narrative of the Holy Quran

The Best English and Urdu Video Refuting Islamism from the Quran and Hadith

Do Muslims Prefer Camels Over Modern Cars?

Sometimes the Quran is Written on Stone and Often on Paper?

The Scope, Style and Effect of the Holy Quran

The History of the Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation

Sources or Criteria for Interpretation of the Holy Quran

The Quran Gives Principles of Justice, But No Judicial System

The Quran Only Means What Our Wisdom and Intentions Dictate: A Progressive Understanding

The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors

Is God Alive or Dead: A Metaphor for the Scriptures from the US Constitution?

God Is Living, So Why Does Religion Treat God As Dead?

I was an Isis sex slave. I tell my story because it is the best weapon I have

We have saved the above videos in the Muslim Times as well:

John 17: Showing Jesus to be a Prophet of God and Not Divine

 Secularism is our focus for politics, governance and human rights.  We believe theology and religion is a separate and independent discussion
Secularism is our focus for politics, governance and human rights. We believe theology is a separate and independent discussion

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

After Jesus said the following, he looked towards heaven and prayed:

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  (John 17:1-3, New International Version)

Not to speak of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke, even in the Gospel of John, which was the last to be written, 60-70 years after crucifixion, as the status of Jesus was being unduly raised and he was evolving into a deity, Jesus is still a prophet and not God, in the whole of the chapter 17.  In this chapter Jesus, may peace be on him, acknowledges several times, “you have sent me” and “you have given me,” as he addresses God the Father.

The confusion arises only when people try to explain, what is central and fundamental in the light of what is peripheral and allegorical.

Jesus, may peace be on him, is not only praying in the beginning of this chapter, but, through out, to God the Father.  Not once or twice, but over and over again and towards the end he mentions again that he is a prophet of God.

In the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

Exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: The site is venerated as Golgotha, where Jesus was put on cross
Exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher: The site is venerated as Golgotha, where Jesus was put on cross

Trinitarians allege that Jesus was perfect man and fully divine.

The portrait of Jesus, in John 17, as you will read below, is not of some one who is fully divine, but a humble man, who is not Omnipotent and does not know the future and is praying to God the Father, for help for himself and his followers.  Read for yourself, I have taken the liberty to highlight in red color, what I mean to emphasize:

 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:4-26, New International Version)

The emphasis is constantly on God the Father, His message and His glory and Jesus is constantly praying to him.

Read the whole chapter again and again, until you begin to see that Jesus, may peace be on him, is not co-equal to God the Father, as suggested in the Nicene creed.

In the last paragraph, Jesus is loud and clear that he is a Prophet of God and no literal son of God.  I rest my case!

Now, I link two debates between Unitarian Christians and Trinitarians:

Debate: Who was Jesus? Man or God? Sir Anthony Buzzard vs Drew Ayers

The Great Debate: Is Jesus God? ( 1 of 3 ) Sir Anthony Buzzard vs Dr. James  White

Suggested reading

Joel Osteen: Enlarging the Circle of Love

24 Video lectures: The Great Courses: How Jesus Became God?

The Best Collection to Introduce Islam to the Fellow Christians

A Ted Talk As Commentary of A Verse of the Quran

Epigraph:

“I have created men, high and low, but to worship Me.” (Al Quran 51:56)

Jonathan Haidt’s Ted Talk: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt asks a simple, but difficult question: why do we search for self-transcendence? Why do we attempt to lose ourselves? In a tour through the science of evolution by group selection, he proposes a provocative answer.

The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles about the Quran and human psychology

How Can the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims Argue Afterlife

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The above one minute video clip is by Jaggi Vasudev also known as Sadhguru.

His criticism certainly needs to be tackled by the three Abrahamic faiths, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as they all believe in Afterlife.

Many a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim believe that their belief in Afterlife gives them hope, inspiration and sense of purpose.

To state the obvious, Afterlife and heaven and hell are described both in the Bible and the Quran.

The believers base their belief in the Afterlife on their faith in the respective scriptures, which is all well and good. But, this does not open up an avenue of discussion for them against the views of the agnostics, the atheists or those who do not believe in their respective scriptures.

The holy Quran does not only claim Afterlife but also suggests a poignant philosophical argument for it that is based in science.

The simple yet very profound argument has two parts:

A. This universe is not an accident. Its beauty, complexity and wonderful organization suggests an Insightful, All Knowing Creator.

B. The Creator of the first creation, in His creation, has certainly demonstrated His ability to recreate it.

Now, I propose to elaborate these two claims.

According to a Gallup poll in 2019, a large majority of the US population, 78% to be exact, believes in God the Creator, this includes both the camps of those who believe in guided evolution or creationism.

Despite the fact that significant population now identifies itself as unaffiliated to any religion, only 22% of Americans do not believe God had any role in human evolution.

I believe in guided evolution, as I believe both in a Creator God and in the facts of biological evolution.

Scientists and philosophers from all Abrahamic faiths, including myself, have laid out forceful arguments for our Creator God and I have been collecting these over the years and I propose to put them at your finger tips here:

How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution

A Slight Twist Makes David Attenborough a Great Teacher for God of the Abrahamic Faiths

Charles Darwin: An Epiphany for the Muslims, A Catastrophe for the Christians

Photosynthesis: deserving of our awe or ridicule?

Allah the Creator, the Maker and the Fashioner: The Best Documentary on Birds

The anesthesia of familiarity: There should be a Creator of Our Universe

The Beauty and the GPS of the Birds and the Quran

Ten Raised to Five Hundred Reasons for Our Gracious God

A challenge for Dawkins: Where did carbon come from?

Plain Water will Tell you the Story

Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe by Martin Rees

The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? by Paul Davies

Moon: Does it have a purpose?

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Twelve Famous Scientists On The Possibility Of God

The above should suffice for the first part of my thesis: This universe is not an accident. Its beauty, complexity and wonderful organization suggests an Insightful, All Knowing Creator.

Once the reader is comfortable with the first part, the next part, the Creator of the first creation, in His creation, has certainly demonstrated His ability to recreate it, naturally flows from it.

The holy Quran presents this reasoning, with different aspects of God’s creation several times. For starters: “Do they not see that Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, has the power to create the like of them?” (Al Quran 17:100)

Next I present, a verse of the Holy Quran, where Allah cites gravity and planetary motion as a pointer, towards His creativity and eventual hereafter:

Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne. And He pressed the sun and the moon into service: each pursues its course until an appointed term. He regulates it all. He clearly explains the Signs, that you may have a firm belief in the meeting with your Lord.  (Al Quran 13:3)

The Quran offers only one line of reasoning for the second creation, namely the first creation. Allah argues that one who has created this complex and awe inspiring universe and all  the life forms on our planet earth, should be able to recreate human life and of course the individual humans.

The Holy Quran discusses reincarnation in greater detail in the following verses in the chapter Yasin, adding the domain of biology to that of astronomy as the argument is built further, from the first creation:

Does not man see that We have created him from a mere sperm-drop? Yet lo! he is an open quarreler!  And he coins similitudes for Us and forgets his own creation. He says, ‘Who can quicken the bones when they are decayed?’  Say, ‘He, Who created them the first time, will quicken them; and He knows every kind of creation full well. He Who produces for you fire out of the green tree, and behold, you kindle from it.  Has not He Who created the heavens and the earth the power to create the like of them?’ Yea, and He is indeed the Supreme Creator, the All-Knowing.   Indeed,  His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, ‘Be!,’ and it is.  So Holy is He, in Whose hand is the kingdom of all things. And to Him will you all be brought back.  (Al Quran 36:78-84)

In several places the Quran uses biology and regeneration of earth in spring as a metaphor for Afterlife:

Among His Signs is this that you see the earth lying withered, but when We send down water on it, it stirs and swells with verdure. Surely He Who quickens the earth can quicken the dead also. Indeed, He has power over all things. (Al Quran 41:40)

And:

He brings forth the living from the dead, and He brings forth the dead from the living; and He gives life to the earth after its death. And in like manner shall you be brought forth. (Al Quran 30:20)

The debate we are having here is not a new one but is an age old conflict between the believers and non-believers, as the holy Quran describes:

They say, ‘What! when we are dead and have become mere dust and bones, shall we indeed be raised up again? This is what we have been promised before, we and our fathers. This is nothing but fables of the ancients.’ Say, ‘To whom belongs the earth and whosoever is therein, if you know?’‘To Allah’, they will say. Say, ‘Will you not then be admonished?’ Say, ‘Who is the Lord of the seven heavens, and the Lord of the Great Throne?’ They will say, ‘They are Allah’s.’ Say, ‘Will you not then take Him as your Protector?’(Al Quran 23:83-88)

The Quran is well aware of comments of critics like Jaggi Vasudev:

And they say, ‘There is nothing but this our present life; we die and we live here; and nothing but Time destroys us.’ But they have no knowledge of that; they do but conjecture. And when Our clear Signs are recited unto them, their only contention is that they say, ‘Bring back our fathers, if you are truthful.’ (Al Quran 45:25-26)

The Quran has a clear answer for its critics. As long as the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other scientist are able to demonstrate there is a Creator of our universe, we are on very firm grounds to believe in the Afterlife. The first creation is proof enough for the future second creation.

I rest my case.